(Not) Scary Books for Younger Readers

Our older daughter recently announced that she loved “scary books.” Since she has been known to stop reading books or watching movies midway through that she deems too scary, this was a bit of a surprise.

So began the search for a scary series just scary enough for her (i.e., not scary enough to produce nightmares, but scary enough to give her a thrill). As she is a full-fledged chapter book reader now, there are many options out there, the most obvious being Goosebumps. But just because she’s able to read something, doesn’t always mean I think she should read it just yet.

I’ve listed some of the books we’ve found that have fulfilled her “scary book” request. Enjoy!



Franny K. Stein series by Jim Benton

The main character is a mad scientist named Franny who is constantly designing and building intricate projects, such as the Shrinkerizer, the Time Warper, and Franbots. She struggles to fit in with her family and at school, with some surprising and comical results, but stays true to herself. Some of the topics and illustrations are creepy, but none are too graphic or gory. Additional comic relief comes in the form of her laboratory assistant, a dog named Igor. These books seem to have staying power, as our older daughter has returned to these books repeatedly, ignoring other new books on her shelves (or in the piles of books on her bed!).



Zac Power series by H. I. Larry

Zac is an undercover spy who has secret missions to carry out, alongside household chores assigned by his mother. He uses cool techy spy gadgets on each mission while narrowly dodging danger. The scare factor comes in the way the books successfully build suspense and keep the reader on edge. A note of caution: the books have been criticized for their gender division. In this series, male characters tend to be exciting and cool, while female characters tend to be villains or damsels in distress.



Scooby-Doo Mysteries by various authors, published by Scholastic

Scooby-Doo and the gang encounter creepy characters, such as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves while solving mysteries. The formula used for the TV show is also used in the books. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Scooby-Doo formula, spoiler alert: the creepy characters end up being people in disguise who have been scaring others, often in hopes of financial gain. The formulaic nature of the books also helps to keep the scare factor manageable. For readers looking for slightly less text, there are Scooby-Doo Comic Chapter Books published by Stone Arch Books.



Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey

A group of friends suspects that their everyday interactions are actually encounters with mythical creatures, such as having a vampire for a teacher. Some of the subjects are scarier than others, such as angels or Santa Claus versus zombies and werewolves. Our daughter found the first few she read interesting, then opted for other books. My impression was that this was due to the repetitive nature of the books and the low-level of scare factor.



Here’s More on Scholastic Branches

In a previous post, I mentioned a line of books published by Scholastic called Branches. These books are geared toward readers transitioning to chapter books. The books have short chapters, lots of illustrations, straightforward plot lines, and each is part of a series.

Even within the Branches line, some books are more suited for earlier early readers and others for more sophisticated readers. In some, the illustrations almost cover the page accompanied by little text, often in the form of dialogue. In others, the illustrations take more of a back seat to the text.

We’ve sampled many of the Branches books and have included our favorites below. Enjoy!


Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe by Noah Z. Jones

Our younger daughter loves the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe books, even though Princess hates pink and frilly clothing, while she wears almost nothing but pink and frilly clothing these days. (The fact that Princess loves bugs and adventures wins her extra points in my book.) The Princess Pink books put a wacky spin on timeless fairy tales, such as Jack and the Beanstalk and the Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Our younger daughter loves them so much that she requested a Princess Pink themed birthday party. Even after multiple readings, they come up often in the bedtime books rotation. Her only gripe with the series is that there are only four books in it! As with many fairy tales, there are scenes of physical conflict, but they are largely mild and softened by their comical nature, such as karate chopping the door of a house made of fish sticks and giving a giant a “knuckle sandwich.”



Olive and Beatrix by Amy Marie Stadelmann

Olive and Beatrix are twin sisters who approach life in polar opposite ways. Olive loves science, while Beatrix is a witch and loves to use magic. Arguments between the two get them into trouble, but the girls work together to resolve their predicaments through a combination of science and magic. Olive’s friend Eddie provides comic relief through his silly songs. I wish there were more than two books in this series!



The Amazing Stardust Friends by Heather Alexander

Ever thought about joining the circus? I suspect our younger daughter has because she was immediately drawn into the world of the Amazing Stardust Friends. After we finished the two books in the series, she assembled “Amazing Stardust Friends” outfits every day for weeks. These stories of life in the circus describe how group of girls eats, performs, and attends school in the circus. I think our daughter was intrigued by the similarities and differences between her life and circus life. The books also tackle issues of friendship, which is easy for this age group to identify with. The Amazing Stardust Friends books were the first books our younger daughter liked where there was more text on the pages than illustrations.



Kung Pow Chicken by Cyndi Marko

Truthfully, these books are not my favorite of the Scholastic Branches books, but they are big hits with both of our daughters. The Kung Pow Chicken books describe the adventures of two brothers: Kung Pow Chicken, a crime-fighting superhero, and his sidekick, Egg Drop. The boys work together to save others from dangers such as the loss of feathers and a supersonic weapon made from an opera singer’s voice. As with many superhero books, there is violence in these books, but it is largely mild and comical.

Update July 18, 2017 with a spoiler alert: We just read the third Kung Pow Chicken book (yes, we often read them out of order) and our younger daughter was terrified by the zombies in the book. The zombies did not act violently, but the concept and illustrations were enough to scare her. Our older daughter, on the other hand, was completely engaged throughout the book and wanted to read it again immediately after we finished it.



Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott

The first time I caught our older daughter staying up late to finish a book she was reading an Owl Diaries book. As suggested by the name of the series, these books are written in the form of a diary written from the perspective of Eva, a young owl living in Treetopolis. Eva worries about school, family, and friendship issues, all of which are easy for younger readers to relate to. Note that some readers may struggle with the way made-up words such as “flap-tastic” and “anyhoot” are sprinkled throughout the book.



A final thought

Even though the Boris, Stella and the Night Sprites, Haggis and Tank Unleashed, Looniverse, Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe, Monkey and Me, and Lotus Lane books didn’t resonate as much with our daughters as I had hoped, they might be the perfect fit for the younger reader in your life!

Learning to Read

Our younger daughter is on the cusp of reading independently. She is able to sound out simple words and her sight word vocabulary is expanding by the day. However, she often grows impatient with the speed at which she can read. She’s used to the pace and flow of being read to out loud, but also desperately wants to be able to read more fluently on her own.


Usborne Very First Reading set by Usborne Publishing

When our older daughter was learning to read independently, I ran across this set of books at a local bookstore. The Usborne Very First Reading set consists of lively books with lots of illustrations that are designed for kids who are learning to read.  What made these a hit with her was the shared reading structure, where the adult reads the left-hand page and the child reads the right-hand page. The amount the child reads and the complexity of what is read increases with each book of the set. This creates success for the child while also keeping the story moving along. Our set came with a parents’ guide to help us use it successfully. These days our younger daughter is eager to read from the Usborne Very First Reading Set!


Just Starting Out with Chapter Books

Our older daughter recently began reading chapter books independently. Although able to decode the text in most children’s books, many of the books I remember from my childhood are still a bit too difficult for her in terms of length, emotional complexity, or subject matter. Luckily, now there is a wealth of easily accessible chapter books for newly independent readers. (Just take a peek at your local library or book store!) I’ve focused on books that come in a series because our daughters enjoy reading about familiar characters and because it simplifies the search for books for them. Some of our favorites are included below.


Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo

Tales from Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo

Mercy Watson is a pig who is treated like a member of the family by the couple she lives with. She has comical adventures that often end up annoying her neighbors, requiring the fire department, police officers, or both to make a visit. Buttered toast, one of Mercy’s favorite foods, usually makes an appearance at the end. Even after multiple readings, our daughters still laugh out loud at these books. Selected characters featured in the Mercy Watson books become stars in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive books. Bright, funny illustrations by Chris Van Dusen fill these books. (My girls also enjoyed his picture books If I Built a Car, If I Built a House, and A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee.)


Captain Awesome series by Stan Kirby

Super Turbo series by Lee Kirby

A group of superhero-loving friends have secret identities as part of the Sunnyview Superhero squad. The scenarios are familiar for kids (e.g., a field trip, soccer game, birthday party) but each somehow requires the kids to don their alter egos along the way. The comedy has never failed to delight in our house, and as an added bonus in later books of the series, one of the members of the Sunnyview Superhero squad is a girl. Superhero books often contain violence, but the Captain Awesome books keep it mild (e.g., spraying cheese from a can at someone). Same can be said for the name calling (e.g., Queen Stinkypants). A spin-off series called Super Turbo based on Captain Awesome’s sidekick has recently been released. If anything, the Super Turbo books are funnier than the Captain Awesome books!


Annie and Snowball series by Cynthia Rylant

Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant

Henry is a boy who has a pet dog named Mudge. Annie, his cousin, is a girl who has a pet rabbit named Snowball. These books feature quaint, everyday adventures. Our girls loved these as read alouds when they were in the 2- to 4-year-old range, but the books would also work as beginning chapter books.

Scholastic Branches by various authors

Scholastic has devoted an entire line to readers just starting out with chapter books. The range of Branches books means that you are liable to find something to fit the taste of every child. The books are filled with illustrations, which is something we found to be important in our transition to chapter books, as the girls were ready for more complex storylines and characters, but didn’t want to give up the fun of illustrations. In some, the illustrations almost cover the page with little text, often the form of dialogue. In others, the illustrations take more of a back seat to the text. In our house, Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe with her wacky versions of timeless fairy tales are favorites. (Note that Princess hates pink and frilly clothes, but loves bugs and adventures.) Our pink-loving, frilly clothes obsessed younger daughter even requested a Princess Pink themed birthday party! Olive and Beatrix, Owl Diaries, Kung Pow Chicken, and the Amazing Stardust Friends were also well received. (More to come on Scholastic Branches books.)